A coalition hoping to repeal California’s “Co-ed Bathroom Bill” faced another setback last week when a judge struck down its request that the state verify referendum signatures officials claim are invalid.
Last summer, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law allowing schoolchildren to choose bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and sports teams based on their “self-identified gender,” rather than their anatomy. Many states, including California, have laws to protect transgendered people, but this is the first time a state has dictated rules to K-12 schools. Several conservative groups and individuals opposed to the law formed the Privacy for All Students coalition (PFAS) and launched a referendum effort to give voters the right to decide whether to approve the legislation.
For the last six months, PFAS has battled the California secretary of state to get the referendum on the ballot in November. At first, PFAS representative Jon Fleischman said Secretary of State Debra Bowen “refused to timely provide the referendum campaign access to an up-to-date voter list,” slowing down the signature-gathering process that already had a short 90-day period to gather half a million signatures.
The organization turned in more than 620,000 signatures in November—116,000 more than the required amount—to get the initiative on the ballot. Initially, Bowen threw out 5,000 signatures from two counties because they weren’t turned in by the Nov. 10 deadline. Couriers did attempt to deliver the signature packages on time, but the offices in both counties were closed due to Veteran’s Day. Though couriers delivered the packages the next business day, Bowen refused to accept them. PFAS sued Bowen to force her to accept the signatures, and a judge agreed.
“These rights are too important for the secretary of state, or a county clerk, to play politics when they don’t like a particular referendum,” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a member of the coalition, told The Washington Times.
On Feb. 24, Bowen said the referendum failed because only about 487,000 of the voter signatures were valid, about 22,000 fewer than the minimum required. PFAS volunteers visited several counties to inspect the invalid signatures and discovered many signatures were wrongly disqualified—including one of the the group’s own attorneys.
“The explanation was that my signature didn’t look exactly like it had on my registration card,” wrote Matt McReynolds. “And you know what? They’re probably right; my signature has undoubtedly changed over the last few years as I have become totally blind and no longer able to see what I’ve written. But my disability shouldn’t prevent me from participating in such a core function of democracy as signing a referendum petition.”
PFAS filed suit in March, subpoenaing the counties to produce the invalid signatures in hopes that reexamining the more than 130,000 rejected signatures would produce enough qualified signatures to move the referendum forward. But Bowen argued that turning over the signatures would violate voter confidentiality. On Apr. 18, a Sacramento Superior Court judge agreed and blocked the subpoenas. Dacus said the group would appeal.